The family of American freelance journalist Austin Tice, who was taken captive in August while covering the Syrian civil war, appealed Thursday for his release, saying loved ones yearn to have him home for the holidays.
"We urge you, whoever you are: let Austin come home for Christmas," the reporter's parents, Marc and Debra Tice, wrote in an open letter to their son's captives. "Let us hug him, laugh and cry with him, love him in person. Let us be a whole family again."
Tice, the oldest of the Houston couple's seven children, was taken hostage as he was leaving Syria, where he had been reporting for The Washington Post and McClatchy Newspapers. Tice crossed into Syria without authorization from the government in May and spent time with rebels in the north before traveling to Damascus in July.
Conflicting information about his fate has emerged in recent months. U.S. and Western diplomats say they believe Tice is being held by the embattled Syrian government. A shaky video posted on the Internet in September raised the possibility that he may have been taken by Islamist extremists, though experts cast doubt on its authenticity and suggested it may have been staged.
The FBI launched a probe into the journalist's disappearance, but investigators have not made any findings public.
The Washington Post and McClatchy have made repeated demands for his release.
Tice's parents said in Thursday's letter, their latest and most detailed appeal for his release, that their son was one of the many journalists that have taken risks to report from one of the world's most dangerous countries.
"A passionate and serious man, Austin has no patience for shallow and materialistic pursuits," they wrote. "He went to Syria to see the truth and share the stories of its people."
Tice is a former Marine infantry officer and is enrolled at Georgetown University Law School.
Syria has become the most dangerous country for journalists as fighting between troops loyal to President Bashar Assad and rebel squads has intensified. Most international journalists who have traveled there entered without permission from the government, which has issued few visas for short, closely monitored, sanctioned visits. The Committee to Protect Journalists says that the 28 journalists killed in Syria this year made it by far the deadliest country for reporters.
Many others have had close calls. NBC correspondent Richard Engel and his four-man crew were freed unharmed this week after being held captive for five days by militants who threatened to kill them.